Friday, July 24, 2009

Labor tension up at Venezuela oil company PDVSA

Labor tension up at Venezuelan oil company PDVSA
Thu Jul 23, 2009
By Marianna Parraga - Analysis

CARACAS (Reuters) - Rising dissatisfaction at Venezuela's state-owned oil company over contract negotiations and alleged meddling from the socialist government could generate isolated industrial action in the OPEC country.

Nearly 100,000 workers employed by Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, and some of its contractors are upset because of overdue pay, delays in renegotiating a new contract and bullying by the government, dissident union leaders say.

The situation has been made worse by the difficulty of incorporating thousands of workers from oil service companies that were nationalized in recent months.

"If this situation continues, workers will no longer complain to the unions and there will be an explosion of the conflict," said Bernardino Chirinos of the Oil Workers' Union of Zulia, the oil-rich western state.

"Workers are ready to take action. We're at the doorstep of a strike," said Chirinos.

PDVSA says it has added to its payroll 6,500 workers and plans to add another 1,600 from previously private companies in the western Zulia state. But many part-time workers also want a staff position and have protested.

Since former paratrooper Hugo Chavez was elected president over a decade ago, he has vastly increased government intervention in the economy, nationalizing power, telephone, steel and cement companies. He also implemented currency and price controls.

Chavez fired about 20,000 workers after a crippling shutdown of the oil industry at the end of 2002 aimed at toppling his government.


Critics say efforts by Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez to consolidate all unions under a pro-government, socialist banner within the oil workers' federation FUTPV is fueling resentment among some leaders.

Last week Ramirez said he wouldn't sit down to negotiate a new contract with enemies of Chavez, in reference to unionists that side with more market-friendly opposition politicians.

The dispute among more than 100 unions over the FUTPV has delayed the renewal of a collective contract by more than six months, upsetting workers eager to get a pay raise in a country with inflation expected to top 30 percent this year.

Seven of the eleven candidates bidding for the top job of the FUTPV are considered pro-government.

Some unionists say elections have intentionally been delayed so that pro-government groups can join forces under the auspices of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) created by Chavez to defeat the opposition candidates.

Ramirez said the FUTPV needed to be in hands of a revolutionary in line with the country's socialist agenda.
Public sector workers in Venezuela often say they are obliged to attend pro-government rallies and active dissidents are excluded from government jobs.

Opposition-linked unionists say PDVSA, which has been struggling to pay creditors since the oil price fell sharply from last year's highs, is also short-changing workers, especially on overtime pay.

They are now putting pressure on PDVSA to pay up.

"If we win the election, PDVSA will have 72 hours to live up to its obligations," said Jose Bodas, a unionist bidding for a post on the FUTPV board of directors.

"If not, we'll register a protest with the Labor Ministry and exercise our right to strike."

(Writing by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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